For people wanting to know how an immigrant visa (also referred to as permanent residency or a “green card”) can be obtained through a family member. Davis & Associates family immigration lawyers can help you understand the process.

Citizens and permanent residents of the United States have the ability to petition the federal government for an immigrant visa for certain family members. US citizens can petition for more categories of family members than permanent residents can. The amount of time between the date the petition is filed and the date when the family member actually obtains the immigrant visa can vary wildly – anywhere from 6 months to 20 years or more. The wait time is determined by the immigration status of the petitioner (are they a citizen or a permanent resident?), the category of family member they are petitioning, and what country the family member is from.

Every year, the US government authorizes a set number of immigrant visas for the family-based categories. Every year, more citizens and permanent residents file petitions for their family members than there are immigrant visas authorized. This has created a years-long backlog in the system.

The government assigns each of the different types of family petitions a priority.  Some family relationships have a higher priority than others, meaning those family members will generally get their permanent residency faster. The government also prioritizes the petitions for immigrant visas based on the country that the family member is immigrating from. Mexico, China, India, and the Philippines have individual waiting times because family members from these countries account for many of the requested immigrant visas.

The family relationship categories with the highest priority have a special name. They’re called “immediate relatives.” The spouses, unmarried children under 21 years old, and parents of US citizens are immediate relatives. Immediate relatives have immigrant visas instantly available to them. Once the initial petition by the US citizen is approved by US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the immediate relative may immediately file an application for the immigrant visa – sometimes it can even be filed together with the initial petition.

Those family relationships which are not immediate relatives are called “preference categories.” The people in preference categories must wait until an immigrant visa is available for them before they can apply for one. Every petition filed by a citizen or permanent resident which is approved is given a priority date (generally, it’s the date on or near when the petition was received by USCIS). The US Department of State publishes a visa bulletin every month which lists each preference categories with a date. Immigrant visas are available to anyone in that preference category whose priority date is earlier than the date on the visa bulletin. Waiting for a priority date to become current can take many years.

Once an immigrant visa is available to the intending immigrant family member, other factors such as the person’s US immigration history, criminal history, and current location will determine where he or she qualifies for permanent residency and where the application should be filed – inside or outside of the United States.

It is important that you consult with a family immigration attorney and a family immigration law firm that is experienced in US immigration law before filing petition or application with the government.  The Attorneys at Dobrescu & Associates are available to review and evaluate your case. Call (555) 555 – 5555 to set up an in-person or telephonic appointment.